Our Duluth family vacation itinerary is one that we do year after year with our kids!
This article will highlight all of the best things to do in Duluth, Minnesota, as well as feature an attraction-packed Duluth itinerary that is perfect for both kids and adults.
Don’t miss out on the absolute best things to do in Duluth, MN by discovering what to see, where to stay, and how to get around Duluth with our 1 – 3 day Duluth family vacation itinerary.
Look no further for the best all-encompassing, family-friendly Duluth itinerary for this beautiful Northern Minnesota vacation destination.
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Duluth Family Vacation: Best Time to Visit
Considered one of the “Best Outdoor Cities in America,” and “The Craft Beer Capital of Minnesota”, visiting Duluth, MN is one of our family’s absolute favorite family getaways.
Situated in Northern Minnesota, Duluth sits on the north shore of Lake Superior, which is the largest of the 4 Great Lakes of North America.
This active port city provides loads of activities for those seeking outdoor lakeside leisure.
Therefore, it is best to plan your Duluth family vacation in the spring, summer, or fall when the weather is pleasant.
Not only does it have a nautical and vibrant atmosphere, but there are many free things to do in Duluth, MN which makes vacationing here very affordable.
For this reason and so many more, Duluth is an ideal destination for families and when traveling on a budget.
Additional planning tip: June, July, and August are the warmest months to visit with temperatures being in the 70s to low 80s.
From mid-September through late October, brilliantly colored fall leaves start to decorate Duluth with temperatures in the mid-50s to low 60s.
If you’re looking to spend time outdoors enjoying the lakefront, avoid visiting Duluth in the winter months of December-February when temperatures are often below zero.
Duluth Vacation Itinerary Ideas
Below you can find suggested Duluth family vacation itinerary ideas from one to three days. The itinerary suggestions are based on our personal experiences and filled with recommendations for visiting the top attractions in Duluth.
No two Duluth vacations will be exactly the same, however, so use these itinerary suggestions as a guide.
You’ll need to adjust your itinerary as needed to account for weather, where you stay, how much time you spend at each attraction, and the varying interests of your travel party.
*All of our top recommended restaurants, landmarks, and attractions are bolded. Their physical locations fit into the flow of this itinerary. If you choose to substitute a restaurant or attraction in their place, be sure to adjust the timing of your itinerary accordingly.
Duluth Family Vacation: Day 1
- Visit Enger Park and climb Enger Tower.
- Tour the Duluth Depot and ride the North Shore Scenic Railroad.
- Explore Canal Park and watch ships go under the Aerial Lift Bridge.
- Have lunch at Grandma’s Saloon and Grill.
- Continue to explore Canal Park, the Lighthouse Pier, and the free Maritime Museum.
- Take an afternoon Vista Fleet cruise in the harbor.
- Walk the Lakefront Trail and have dinner in the Fitger’s Complex.
Enger Park and Enger Tower
As one of the best things to do in Duluth, we always start the morning of Day 1 off with a trip to Enger Tower located within Enger Park.
Enger Tower stands at an elevation of 531′ above Lake Superior, providing panoramic views of Lake Superior and Duluth’s west end.
After strolling around the beautifully landscaped gardens of the park, be sure to climb the many staircases of the historic Enger Tower. Each level provides fantastic views and photo ops!
Time spent: 30-45 minutes
Afterward, head down the hill to visit the Duluth Depot Railroad Museum and to ride the North Shore Scenic Railroad.
Duluth Depot is a historic train station built in 1892 that served seven different railway lines.
The museum here includes several historic trains (that you can tour!), train replicas, train memorabilia, and displays of storefronts from the olden days.
Now on the list of U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the Depot is also home to the Lake Shore Scenic Railroad.
Lake Shore Scenic Railroad offers narrated train rides along the North Shore of Lake Superior.
Best sure to check out the weekly schedule to see if your trip aligns with the ever-popular Zephyr ride, Music & Pizza Train ride, or Thomas the Train event.
Time spent: 1 hour at the Depot museums; various lengths of train
Canal Park, Duluth
After touring the Duluth Depot, head across the Interstate to spend the rest of the day in Canal Park.
Located in the harbor of Lake Superior, Canal Park is the cornerstone of any Duluth travel itinerary whether you’re heading there with kids or going to Duluth as a couple.
Canal Park is the conversion of an old warehouse district into a variety of restaurants, shops, art galleries, indoor and outdoor cafes, and lakeside hotels.
While strolling through Canal Park, the highlight is watching ships from around the world entering the harbor.
Kids never get tired of watching the port’s famous Aerial Lift Bridge rise up and down to let passing ships through as its iconic whistle notifies onlookers.
Be sure not to miss an incoming or departing ship by reviewing the daily ship schedule!
Regardless of ‘big ships’ coming through, the Aerial Lift Bridges rises every hour on the hour, and half-hour throughout the entire day to let scheduled resident and tourist boats pass under.
Other things to do in Canal Park include a 7.5-mile Lakewalk, the North Lighthouse Pier, the (free) Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, multiple splash fountains, and the William A. Irvin floating ship museum.
Additional planning tips: There are open-air parking lots located directly within Canal Park that require either a pre-paid hourly or daily fee.
Time spent: All afternoon and evening
In order to fully experience Duluth and Lake Superior, I recommend taking a narrated sightseeing tour on the Vista Fleet.
With the dock and ticket center located directly in Canal Park, hopping aboard a Vista Fleet cruise is not only convenient, but it is one of the most memorable things you’ll do in Duluth.
On the 75-minute Duluth Waterfront Tour, for instance, you’ll get to cruise under the Aerial Lift Bridge and sail along Duluth’s shoreline while learning about Lake Superior.
Afterward, the tour takes you for a behind-the-scenes sail into the shipping harbor as you learn about cargo ships, the Coast Guard, and Duluth’s shipping industry.
With several other cruise options available, the amazing views you’ll see on the open decks of the Vista Fleet are completely unique to this area.
Where To Eat and Drink in Duluth, MN: Day 1
Have lunch at the original Grandma’s Saloon and Grill (our #1 pick for the best restaurants in Canal Park!).
Enjoy salads, sandwiches, and entrees on the patio while practically sitting at the foot of the Aerial Lift Bridge.
Treat the family to an afternoon ice cream cone or float at Grandma’s Ice Cream Boxcar.
We visit the Boxcar, which is located right next to the Maritime Museum, every time we visit Canal Park.
Later, walk 1 mile down the paved Lakewalk and enjoy dinner at Fitger’s Brewhouse Brewery and Grille.
Fitger’s Brewhouse has award-winning lagers and ales handmade from locally harvested ingredients and Lake Superior waters.
The pub food is designed to complement the beer and is made from fresh, local ingredients as well.
My favorites are their wheat ales and the Brewhouse Fish Tacos!
Rain Option: Day 1
If you are seeking shelter or an indoor attraction located directly in Canal Park, check out Adventure Zone.
Choose single play or a daily pass to play laser tag, mini-golf,
Duluth Family Vacation: Day 2
- Take a stroll on the Canal Park Lakewalk and enjoy the shops in Canal Park
- Drive over the Aerial Lift Bridge and spend a couple of hours at Park Point.
- Have lunch and a beer at Canal Park Brewing Company.
- Visit the Great Lakes Aquarium.
- Visit Lake Superior Zoo.
- Stop for dinner at Duluth Grill or OMC Smokehouse.
Canal Park Lakewalk
Wake up in the morning and have breakfast at your hotel located in Canal Park.
Grab a cup of coffee from Caribou Coffee and join the many other people that start off their morning by strolling along the beautiful lakefront.
Spend the entire morning enjoying Canal Park by way of its scenic Lakewalk.
One of the most popular trails in the state, it includes both a paved bike trail and a boarded walking path.
The Lakewalk is both stroller and pet-friendly too!
Read its suggested mile-by-mile guide here while being sure to stop for plenty of rock skipping along the way!
Next, purchase a 1 hour rental from Wheel Fun rentals!
Whether it’s a 3-6 person surrey, deuce coup, quad sport, kids bike, or cruiser, everyone in the family can find the right vehicle.
Swim at Park Point
After lunch, drive across the Aerial Life Bridge and visit Park Point, Duluth’s only sandy beach and the world’s largest freshwater sandbar.
With an average temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit, Lake Superior is not our favorite swimming hole.
A short trip across the Aerial Life Bridge, however, and you can stop at this iconic beach, find places to skip stones, and dip your feet into the chilly Great Lake!
Time spent: 1 hour
Finally, finish off the day by visiting one, or both, of these animal-related experiences.
Great Lakes Aquarium
A popular Duluth attraction, The Great Lakes Aquarium is unique in that it features freshwater animals and habitats.
There are more than 200 different species of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles at this gigantic indoor aquarium.
Explore the specific living in the Great Lakes through a variety of interactive exhibits and gigantic tanks. Be sure to check out our best tips for visiting Great Lakes Aquarium here!
Lake Superior Zoo
Located 7 miles from Canal Park, Lake Superior Zoo is an indoor/outdoor zoo with animal exhibits and feedings, as well as education programs.
The region’s only zoo, this 16-acre attractions houses an African Lion, tigers, kangaroos, deer, and nocturnal animals.
There is a lot of walking required at this zoo, but the wide variety of animals make it well worth your time.
Where to Eat and Drink in Duluth, MN: Day 2
After you’ve strolled the Lakewalk, be sure to stop for lunch and a beverage at Canal Park Brewing Company.
This is another must-do for us and has become something that we look forward to every time we visit Duluth!
With plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, a patio with fire pits and corn hole, its laid-back atmosphere could find you here for hours!
Craft beer, cheese curds, and Lake Superior in the background….yes, please!
On your way out of town, stop for dinner at Trip Advisor’s #1 ranked restaurant in Duluth, Duluth Grill.
Known for serving the highest level of comfort food, Duluth Grill has been featured on Food Network’s Diners and Drive-Ins.
It is a favorite for both tourists and locals alike!
Rain Option: Day 2
If you are in need of an indoor activity, venture outside of Canal Park and tour Glensheen Mansion, The Historic Congdon Estate.
This awesome tour takes you inside the 39-room, 32,000 square foot mansion built-in 1905. All of the original furniture, photographs, dinnerware, and bedding have been preserved to make you feel just as if you are stepping back in time.
Be sure to check out these secret tips to ensure a fascinating Glensheen Mansion Tour – one of our favorite Duluth attractions!
Duluth Family Vacation: Day 3
- Spend the entire day driving up North Shore Scenic Drive to Grand Marais, and then back to Duluth.
North Shore Scenic Drive
Featuring a plethora of rushing waterfalls, scenic hiking trails, state parks, and epic views of Lake Superior, the pristine beauty of the Minnesota North Shore cannot be missed.
For a complete guide on how to explore the North Shore Scenic Drive as a day trip from Duluth, read our ordered list of the 16 must-see stops on the Minnesota North Shore.
Our stops are listed in order from the gateway city of Duluth, MN to our endpoint, Grand Marais, MN.
Discover the best things to do in Grand Marais, here!
Duluth Family Vacation: If you have more time
For more fun and adventure, consider heading to Spirit Mountain Adventure Park that is open seasonally during the warmer months.
With kid-friendly attractions such as alpine slides, mini-golf, zip-lining, and scenic chair-lift rides, there is enough adrenaline here for your whole family of thrill-seekers.
When it comes to wintertime, visit Spirit Mountain (or nearby Lutsen Mountain Ski Resort) for winter sports including skiing and snowboarding.
Spirit Mountain also offers camping, hiking, and mountain biking, so be sure to plan ahead if adding this to your list of things to do in Duluth with kids!
Where to Stay in Duluth: Duluth Hotels
In order to maximize your Duluth 3-day itinerary, I highly recommend that you stay in a hotel that is located within Canal Park.
Although there are other options on where to stay in Duluth with kids, the convenience of staying within Canal Park is off the charts.
Your final selection of Canal Park Duluth hotels will be based on availability, as these popular hotels book up extremely fast during the summer months.
Each of the links below contains valuable images, descriptions, and reviews of my favorite hotels in Canal Park.
We’ve stayed at each one of these locations and recommend them time and time again. You cannot go wrong with any of these choices, as they are all within Canal Park and are just steps from the lakefront.
And our favorite, The Suites Hotel of Waterfront Plaza.
The Suites is pet-friendly and offers a free hot breakfast. It has an amazing pool area that includes a separate kiddie pool, hot tub, and sauna.
For a complete search of Duluth hotels along with a great rate, use the following search:
*Thank you to Visit Duluth for the hosted experience on the Duluth Waterfront Tour aboard the Vista Star, the tickets to the Lake Superior Zoo, Glensheen Mansion, and Great Lakes Aquarium, as well as a fabulous dinner at Grandma’s Saloon! All opinions are my own.
Where is your favorite restaurant or brewery in Duluth? We’d love to see your comments! -Jen
If you enjoyed reading about our Duluth family vacation, click here to check out our Related Posts:
Plan a visit to Minnesota’s North Shore:
- Must-See Stops on Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive
- Lutsen Ski Resort: The Best Place to Go Skiing in Minnesota
- 9 Best Things to do in Grand Marais, MN
- Minnesota Bucket List: 13 Absolute Best Things to Do
Plan a visit to Duluth, Minnesota:
- 11 Free Things to do in Duluth, MN This Summer
- Glensheen Mansion Tours: A Duluth Legacy!
- 7 Reasons to Visit Duluth’s Great Lakes Aquarium
- 9 Best Restaurants in Canal Park, Duluth Minnesota
- 11 Duluth Attractions You Shouldn’t Miss!
*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*